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Dumbo

Maybe elephants shouldn’t fly if this is the best they can do
© Walt Disney Pictures One of Disney’s shortest features, the original Dumbo packs an emotional wallop in just 64 minutes. This updated version goes nowhere in almost twice that time.
    After having lost an arm fighting in World War I Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), returns home to find his hopes dashed. His wife has died from influenza, and his war injury has ruined his chances at reclaiming his job at the Medici Brothers Circus. 
     Holt is reduced to caring for the elephants. 
     Ringmaster Max Medici (Danny DeVito) has pinned his hopes for reviving business on the birth of a new elephant calf. Those hopes, too, are dashed when the baby is born with enormous ears. 
     The newborn is a freak to the circus and a joke to the laughing crowd that chances to see his debut. Max decides to christen the baby Dumbo and use him as a clown. 
     But jokes aren’t Dumbo’s real talent. Flapping those massive ears, he can fly. A flying elephant gains a lot of attention, especially from a maniacal amusement park developer (Michael Keaton).
     Can Max and Holt protect Dumbo from the world? Or is the little elephant with the big ears doomed to be exploited?
      Another infamous circus man, P.T. Barnum, quipped that there’s a sucker born every minute. Disney is banking that’s so, and you’ll prove them right if you buy tickets to this bloated cash grab. One of Disney’s shortest features, the original Dumbo packs an emotional wallop in just 64 minutes. This updated version goes nowhere in almost twice that time.
      Directed by Tim Burton (Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children), Dumbo is a sad reminder that the filmmaker’s biggest projects with Disney are often his least successful creatively. Burton has made a career of loving films about outcasts physically different from the norm. So it’s a shock that he can evoke no empathy for either Holt or Dumbo — though to be sure the little elephant is cute. 
      Burton’s strength as a visual director fails him. Sets are anachronistic and dull. It’s a stunningly lazy effort from a director who once made a charming movie about a zombie dog. A joyfully reimagined two-minute Pink Elephants sequence is the only respite in this dreary tale.
      Burton gets no help from his cast. The two child actors are left as blanks. Michael Keaton, who has done brilliant work with Burton in the past, is inexplicably subdued and unhinged with no rhyme or reason. His wig does most of the acting. As the theoretical lead, Farrell grimaces thoughtfully and speaks with a southern accent that makes an excellent argument for dialect coaches.
     Only Danny DeVito perks up enough to be entertaining, giving us a bombastic ringmaster full of charm and humor. 
     Younger viewers in the audience seemed interested — for a time. But even they began to lose interest around the 90-minute mark.
      Don’t subject yourself or your children to Dumbo. Teach them early that good filmmaking is important, and rent the original Dumbo, which costs less than a movie ticket and will last under an hour if you skip the scenes featuring the racist crows. 
Dismal Family Fantasy • PG • 112 mins. 
 
~~~ New this Week ~~~
The Best of Enemies
     Ann Atwater (Taraji P. Henson) is used to fighting uphill battles. In 1971, the civil rights activist leads the fight to desegregate Durham, North Carolina, schools. She must deal with C.P. Ellis (Sam Rockwell), a ranking Ku Klux Klanner who is the co-chair of the community summit. As they work together, Ellis comes to question some of his beliefs. Can the two cooperate to help community overcome its divides?
     Expect this well-meaning movie to oversimplify race relations and solutions.
Prospects: Flickering • PG-13 • 132 mins.
 
Pet Sematary
     Sometimes, dead is better. 
     Grieving Creed family patriarch Louis (Jason Clarke) buries his beloved cat in a rural Pet Sematary reputed to bring the dead back to life.
     He learns that messing with supernatural burial grounds is historically a bad decision.
     This adaptation of the Stephen King novel should be a tense thrill ride for fans of creepy kids, creepy pets or zombies.
Prospects: Flickering • R • 101 mins. 
 
Shazam!
     When foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel) finally finds a good family, his life seems headed for a new normal. Until an ancient wizard offers him all the power in the world with one magic word.
     Saying Shazam! turns Billy into a superhero (Zachary Levi). Like any good kid, Billy uses his amazing powers to … goof off and impress his friends. When a real threat challenges, will he be ready to defeat it?
      Think of this as Big meets Superman. DC movies tend to be dark and depressing, so this comic romp promises a fun break. 
Prospects: Bright • PG-13 • 132 mins.